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Awkward pause

health-and-fitness Updated: Oct 07, 2009 20:11 IST
Sai Raje & Dhamini Ratnam
Sai Raje & Dhamini Ratnam
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The doctor’s office is often the stage for some of the most embarrassing experiences of your life. And at times like these, bearing with a painful shot in the arm seems like a far better option than having to talk about sexual problems or be subjected to an examination of your anal fissures.

Prakash Gupta, 50, who was on medication for hypertension, visited his doctor for a routine check up with his wife. During their conversation, Gupta’s physician, Dr Khusrav Bajan, noticed that the couple kept exchanging uncomfortable glances. Gradually, Gupta began talking about how weak he was feeling, at which point, his wife also chimed in, asking the doctor to prescribe a medicine that would increase her husband’s “strength”.

“I was flummoxed at first, but then realised that they were probably referring to the husband's decreased sex drive — a common side effect of some hypertension medicines.

My patient and his wife felt too shy to talk about their sex life,” said Bajan, consultant physician and Intensivist, Hinduja Hospital.

Being uncomfortable about talking to your doctor about a health problem isn’t uncommon. Many people feel horribly awkward opening up about their health concerns, and not just sexual ones, with their doctor. But it does pay to talk openly to your doctor about an embarrassing problem. Else you could risk delaying your diagnosis, or worse, aggravating your condition.

Probing issues
Dr Rekha Bhatkhande, gasteroenterologist, Sushrusha Hospital, said that the most common problem she treats is constipation. “An old lady once came to me with a constipation problem — she said she had tried every form of self-medication from home remedies to laxatives. But she was too embarrassed to tell me that she had to probe herself with a finger each time to accomplish the task, an important fact that would help me diagnose that she suffered from rectal outlet dysfunction. It was only when I probed further — pardon the pun — that she divulged this bit of vital information,” added Bhatkhande.

Then there are patients that the doctors call the ‘door-knobbers’. “These are people who beat around the bush for all of their appointed time with me and start opening up about the real problem when they are almost ready to leave and at the door,” said Dr Rajan Bhonsle, head of the department of sexual medicine, KEM Hospital.

“I have had many male patients come to me and talk about unrelated issues, only to voice concerns at the very end about whether their penis size is sufficient to satisfy their partner,” said Bhonsle. One man in his mid-thirties hadn’t married because of this fear, added Bhonsle, and he had never talked about it to any doctor before that. “His parents thought he was gay!”

Not just the patient’s fault
But that doesn’t mean it’s always the patient’s fault. “The doctor needs to make an already squeamish patient feel at ease to discuss his/ her problems. It’s really up to the doctor to make sure that a patient’s shyness should not interfere with the diagnosis,” said Bajan.

The general atmosphere in the clinic is also important. “The clinic should be private place with no outsiders filing in and out to make a patient feel at ease. It also helps that the doctor is a good listener,” said Bhonsle.